Benita Chacko

"Consumer is seeking customised solutions for specific needs": HUL's Prabha Narasimhan

In an interview with afaqs!, the executive director – home care, HUL, talks about the journey of Sunlight Detergent, Unilever's first brand in India.

Recently, Sunlight detergent, a Hindustan Unilever (HUL) brand, launched an initiative titled ‘Sunlight Tantir Rong’ to support West Bengal’s handloom weavers. Sunlight connected these weavers with famous contemporary designers. The campaign was a part of the brand’s new journey to make it more purpose-led, and also make a positive difference in the lives of the consumers in Bengal.

Over an email, Prabha Narasimhan, executive director – home care, HUL, spoke about the campaign and the journey of Unilever's first brand in India since it was launched in 1888.

Prabha Narasimhan
Prabha Narasimhan

“‘Sunlight Tantir Rong’ is a unique campaign, given the nature and scale of what we were trying to achieve. We wanted to create a platform where these local weavers could showcase their extraordinary art. We were keen to get a well-known fashion designer, who could work with them to create contemporary designs and capture the imagination of our consumers. We found a perfect partner in Parama Ghosh,” says Narasimhan.

“Apart from this collaboration, it was important to take this message to the masses. It has been done via an impactful digital piece (content has already crossed four million views) and a TVC, created in conjunction with SVF, who have successfully partnered with us for multiple campaigns since 2020,” she adds.

The brand has also changed its pack design to promote this campaign, and drive traffic to the website, via a QR code.

“This is the first time we have created a special edition Sunlight pack, especially for Durga Pujo 2021, to bring the campaign alive. It is as our tribute to the work of the handloom weavers of Bengal. We have retained the iconic structure and the yellow colour. Our logo on the pack symbolises how Sunlight is getting threaded into the fabrics of Bengal,” mentions Narasimhan.

“The myriad colourful rays have been replaced by some beautiful weave patterns of Bengal. The weaver’s hand, with the quintessential safety pin, is a representative of the ‘tanti’ from Bengal. By designing and placing the QR code on both the front and back of the pack, we want to encourage people to scan it and visit the website, where the ‘Sunlight Tantir Rong’ collection is available for sale,” she adds.

In 2020, the brand crafted a new purpose-led journey for Sunlight - ‘to enable people to live life in colour’.

"Sunlight enjoys a very strong equity and is the market leader in the detergent segment in Bengal. But in 2020, we decided we wanted to make Sunlight more than just a detergent brand so that it could find deeper meaning in people’s lives. With that we launched our purpose of enabling people to live life in colour. As a first campaign idea, we decided to challenge the stereotype around age and how age should not determine the colours you wear and the life you lead.

Sunlight, launched in 1884, was the world's first packaged and branded laundry soap. It was launched in India in 1888, becoming Unilever's first brand in India. Today HUL has other brands in its fabric care segment, like Active Wheel, Rin, Surf Excel, Nature Protect, Love & Care and Comfort. But despite Sunlight's legacy, unlike the other brands, it only has a presence in West Bengal and Kerala.

“At HUL, we have a Winning in Many Indias (WIMI) approach, which allows us to customise our offerings across different markets to best serve the needs of various consumer segments. Accordingly, our geography portfolio footprint, marketing mixes and communication vary, depending on the specific needs of each market. We have ambitious plans to drive growth and build brand love in these markets,” reveals Narasimhan.

So what makes Sunlight so popular in these two states? Nisha Sampath, a brand marketing consultant with 20-plus years of experience, with brands like HUL, Swiggy, Aditya Birla Group, GVK Group, says both the markets have more evolved users in terms of fabric care.

Nisha Sampath
Nisha Sampath

“I’m not very sure if it is one of those growing brands. I would call them a cash cow. The brand has reached a certain level and without much advertising or push the brand moves. The advertising is more for maintaining sales, but most people will be aware of the brand,” she adds.

“In many categories, Kerala and West Bengal behave very differently from the others. It has always been the case and it's hard to point to any one factor. For example, Kerala is much more evolved in terms of their laundry like they have laundry soaps versus the laundry bars. Because they have soft water and the bars perform better in hard water. The soaps are also gentle on the hands,” she says.

Abneesh Roy
Abneesh Roy

Despite Sunlight’s strong presence in these two states, it does not expand to other markets. Abneesh Roy, executive director at Edelweiss Financial Services says that would be akin to launching a new product for HUL. “Taking the brand to other markets now will be like launching a new product now and it will involve huge spends. They must have tested it and decided against it. The brand is doing well in these markets and so it is focusing on it,” he says.

Sunlight's functional promise is that it keeps colours bright with its 'Color Guard' technology. Sampath says that though it may not have grown to become a national brand, it has consolidated its base in this segment. “It has a very loyal user base. Not too many brands offer colour protection. It's a benefit of higher end detergents. They've always owned that very consistently."

Sunlight has also tried to grow through format upgradation. For example, they launched the liquid detergent two years back. “That is the way they've tried to consolidate and upgrade the target audience. With detergent, ultimately it is a value gain. So all the big players would want to upgrade their consumers from a budget product to a more premium product within the same range," adds Sampath.

However, innovations at Sunlight are much slower, as compared to the other HUL brands. While brands like Surf and Rin have had liquid detergents for years now, the same was introduced in Sunlight only two years back. In fact, Surf even has Smart Shots (pods) now. Narasimhan says that the innovations are designed keeping in mind the needs and aspirations of the TG across different markets.

Sampath terms detergents a ‘repertoire’ category. “Even middle class consumers, who use Nirma or Wheel, would be experiencing products like Surf and Ariel through sachets. Different garments have different requirements. So they will use the premium products for the more expensive clothes. Sunlight obviously came in late because they don't talk to a premium segment. When liquids were launched in India they were for a premium segment. Maybe it feels that due to the brand loyalty there is an opportunity to retain these users within the brand franchise. It gives them a chance to upgrade users within the brand."

In recent times, the laundry ritual has got a bit longer, with more products being added to the process – like fabric softener and (last year) the sanitiser. Narasimhan says that the consumers are seeking customised solutions for their specific needs.

“Like all other categories, whether it is skin care, hair care, or laundry – the consumer is becoming more aware and is seeking customised solutions for their specific needs. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. At one end of the spectrum, there are the consumers who want specialised formats and benefits, making their rituals more elaborate,” mentions Narasimhan.

“At the other end, there are the consumers who seek ‘all-in-one’ solutions, with greater convenience. Through our portfolio of brands and offerings, we aim to serve both these sets of consumers by giving them multiple solutions to choose from,” she signs off.

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